In the eighteenth century, the port of Liverpool was the second richest city in Britain, its wealth based largely on the slave and cotton trades. There were several attempts to start art exhibition societies in the second half of the century and the Liverpool Academy was eventually founded in 1810, Manchester’s Royal Institution in 1823. Both promoted contemporary artists and exhibited old masters from aristocratic collections.

Lancashire and Cheshire became world centres of textile manufacturing. This wealth supported patrons and collectors who commissioned work from the country’s leading artists. In the mid-nineteenth century, many industrialists supported contemporary artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites and promoted the founding of the great civic museums and galleries of the North West. This philanthropic tradition continues with the annual John Moores Painting Prize. The North West’s own industrial landscape however was not a common subject for art until the work of L. S. Lowry became popular in the mid-twentieth century.